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State spent €43m on land worth €500,000


Horrific: Kieran O'Donnell

Horrific: Kieran O'Donnell

Horrific: Kieran O'Donnell

Lack of planning permission reveals failure of McCreevy's decentralisation

THE full failure of Charlie McCreevey's decentralisation policy is today revealed as it has emerged the Irish taxpayer paid €43m for 12 sites around the country -- which are now worth just €500,000.

As a result, the State is now sitting on a land bank of near worthless properties which were never developed.

The Office of Public Works (OPW), which handled the land purchases, was last night described by John McGuinness, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) -- which is the Dail's watchdog on state spending -- as "grossly incompetent" for the manner in which taxpayers' money was spent.

Startling new figures obtained by this newspaper show that all of the land purchased on the 12 sites in towns like Drogheda, Portlaoise, Carlow, Claremorris and Waterford was bought without full planning permission and as a result is now worth less than €10,000 an acre.

Since 2006, property prices have fallen on average 70 per cent for 54 consecutive months, but the scale of the losses taken by the taxpayer on these decentralisation properties has been described as "cataclysmic" and "horrific".

The figures were revealed in an analysis conducted by PAC member and Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell, who supplied the information to this newspaper.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr O'Donnell said: "These figures are horrific and are the exact manner in how public money should not be spent.

"We have to ensure this never happens again. For example, in Claremorris, the State spent almost €1m an acre. I checked this week, it is now worth as low as €7,500 an acre in some places for agriculture land."

Mr O'Donnell's main objection is that these plots of land were bought without proper planning permission, which greatly reduces their value today. The most shocking waste of public money was the €12.4m purchase of a two-acre site in Drogheda, or €6m an acre. This site, bought to house a new HQ for the Department of Social Welfare, came without any planning permission and has remained idle ever since.

On foot of the botched decentralisation policy, a total of €338m had been spent on property for the decentralisation programme.

In Mullingar, €8.3m was spent on a site for the Department of Education in 2007 for a 5.3-acre site, working out at €1.5m an acre. Again the site was never developed.

In Waterford, another €8m was wasted on a three-acre site for a proposed Department of the Environment building, working out at €2.6m an acre. This site has also remained idle.

There were other multi-million spends in Cavan (€2.9m); Claremorris (€2.5m); Dungarvan (€2.1m); Thomastown (€1.8m); Edenderry (€1.5m); Carlow (€1.4m); and Portlaoise (€1.1m).

In response to the PAC analysis, Claire McGrath, chairwoman of the OPW -- the body charged with the purchasing of the land -- insisted last week that her organisation was merely carrying out the political policy wishes of her political masters.

Sunday Independent